I was 29 years old and all I’d achieved until then was to become a wife, a mother, and a school teacher. I wanted my life to mean something more so I resolved to write my first (children’s) book and have it published by the time I was 30. I did this and subsequently the book was published by Penguin Books (Puffin imprint). Since then -- I'm now 66 -- I’ve published 120+ books, mostly for young readers some of which have won state and national awards, including children’s choice book awards. Nowadays I make a living from writing.
So this advice I give you about what I wish I'd known when I first started writing and getting published:
1. Learn the fundamentals of writing before you even attempt a writing career. I cannot stress this enough, even if you feel that writing comes naturally to you, learn grammar and the mechanics of writing. Take classes, attend workshops or read books on your own. You will need to do so eventually and getting it out of the way first will save you much precious time. I was very lucky to have been taught the fundamentals of grammar at high school.
2. Polish, polish and polish. A piece is almost never done after the first draft is complete. The longer you keep a piece of writing, the more mistakes you will see in it. After you have some years of writing under your belt you know when a piece is complete and until it isn’t, the piece nags at you and you can’t stop thinking about it.
3. Accept feedback from others and pay heed to what they have to say (except those closest to you who love you, hence they will love what you write). For more unbiased feedback post your work on message boards or social media. Writers groups are also helpful. Even after 30+ years of writing, I still workshop my writing-in-progress with other professional writers.
4. Diversify. It’s wise to create multiple revenue streams if you plan to make a comfortable living at writing. If you want to write books also consider seeking freelance writing jobs and/or speaking engagements. Establish yourself as an expert on what you write about.
5. Work to overcome trepidation about public speaking. Many writers are introverts by nature. You need to work to become more outgoing and be ready at any moment to speak enthusiastically about your work. Begin with baby steps and each time you step outside of your comfort zone you will build confidence. You must become your own biggest fan and best salesperson.
When I first realised the value of speaking publicly about my life as a writer and about specific books I’d written, I joined Toastmasters International and learnt how to train the butterflies in my tummy. There is an incredible amount of competition out there for the attention of readers and it doesn’t matter how good your work is: if it isn’t getting in front of readers it will never get noticed.
6. A writing career is not easy. It’s very easy to romanticise the writer’s life but most times it is far from glamorous. To be a successful writer requires a mega dose of hard work, commitment, good networking skills, optimism, and also a healthy dose of luck. If you have the discipline to hone your craft, writing can be equally as rewarding as it is often difficult.
7. Beware of any publisher or agent asking you for money from you to do business with you. There are plenty of unscrupulous individuals and companies out there who prey on both the vanity and naiveté of aspiring writers. Thankfully, reviews are now just a click away on the internet. Even if you are self-publishing your work, invest the time in reading online reviews before you sign a contract or upload your work.
8. Read voraciously. Reading the work of other authors will expand your vocabulary and will make you a better writer. Often when I’m about to write in a particular genre, I will read books in that genre for weeks beforehand; it helps put my head into the right mood.
9. Develop your own unique voice and learn how to spark creativity. Your style is what eventually will set you apart and allow you to develop your niche which will ultimately develop into your fan base.
10. Don’t believe in writer’s block as an excuse not to write. Superglue is the answer (paste it on your backside and get in front of the computer and write!) I’ve learned it’s best to do anything that has nothing to do with writing if you hit a stumbling block, and pretty soon the ideas start flowing freely again.
10. Writing is not only a form of personal expression, it is therapeutic and it is also a lifelong journey of self discovery. If I stop writing I feel there is a huge void within me, life doesn’t seem as fulfilling. Take your craft seriously, create a space to write that is quiet and free from interruptions. Although writers spend lots of time crafting fictional characters, ironically, the act of writing develops the character of the author more than anything else.
11. Get involved in the writing world. Make contact with other writers, if only online. Join the Children’s Book Council of Australia if you are writing for children and become proactive in book events. Accept invitations to speak at festivals and conferences. Help newer writers than you. Get yourself a business card with your contact details on it and hand it out to new writing colleagues and readers.
12. Get yourself a website, a blog and a Facebook page. Be proactive in promoting your books. And be thankful and supportive of publishers who invest time and energy into publishing your books.